Kimi ga Irukara / Sayuri Sugawara
Finally, it is here: The long-awaited theme song for Final Fantasy XIII, "Kimi ga Iru Kara". Originally series' composer Nobuo Uematsu was supposed to write the theme song, but he was assigned to score Final Fantasy XIV, so Masashi Hamauzu stood in instead. He chose a relative unknown singer from the J-Pop scene, Sayuri Sugawara, to perform the song and represent the protagonist of the game. While the final result is acceptable, it's not quite as special as earlier theme songs in the Final Fantasy series. The single also features "Eternal Love", "Christmas Again", and the instrumental versions.
Final Fantasy XIII's theme song "Kimi ga Iru Kara" was written in a style of a ballad much like earlier entries in the series. Since Final Fantasy VIII, each instalment of the series has featured ballads as tie-ins for the story. However, this one is a little exceptional since it is composed by Masashi Hamauzu rather than Nobuo Uematsu. Unfortunately, the composition doesn't really break any new ground here and it isn't as spectacular as "Eyes on Me", "Suteki da ne", or even "Kiss Me Good-Bye". Nonetheless, it's still quite enjoyable and surprisingly upbeat for a Final Fantasy theme song.
Sugawara's vocals in "Kimi ga Iru Kara" are generally very easy on the ears and capture the strength and emotions of the game's female protagonist, Lightning. The instrumental backing mainly comprises generic pop beats, but composer Masashi Hamauzu adds some passionate string overlays and even an upbeat solo from 3:13. It's far better than Leona Lewis song that is featured in the American release, but still not as emotional or melodically captivating as Nobuo Uematsu's theme songs.
Also used in Final Fantasy XIII, "Eternal Love" sounds more like something I'd want to hear in the game. Arranger Sin's stylistic influence is far stronger than composer Masashi Hamauzu's in this instance. In particular, it sounds like the usual Sayuri since it mixes a bit of R&B into it. It's very relaxing, a little more upbeat, and could probably work well in a dreamy scene during the game. Overall, this song captured me quite a bit more than "Kimi ga Iru Kara".
The third song on the single commemorates the Christmas release of Final Fantasy XIII. It's different from the other tracks because of both he inclusion of the acoustic guitar and the more spiritual tone of Sugawara's voice. Many will recognise the guitar melody from Franz Liszt, but the arrangement is quite modern and electronic overall. While it is a Christmas song, it really doesn't live up to the earlier entries, since it is a little too mild. It's still a nice bonus on the single though.
Whether treated as Final Fantasy XIII's or Sayuri Sugawara's 2nd single, "Kimi ga Iru Kara" is rather mundane. On one level, it doesn't live up to earlier Final Fantasy themes melodically or emotionally, perhaps due to the absence of Nobuo Uematsu or the overproduction by Sin. On another level, it feels redundant against Sugawara's previous releases. Though the Final Fantasy XIII tie-in will either make or break her, there's no reason that she shouldn't get at least in the top 10 on Oricon. I expected more from a Final Fantasy theme song, but it's still decent and will sell well. Also note that the limited edition comes with a bonus DVD featuring a Final Fantasy XIII promotion video.
Kimi ga Irukara
Kimi ga Irukara (Instrumental)
Eternal Love (Instrumental)
Christmas Again (Instrumental)